Body Cameras 101: A guide to new program
DARIEN — In a digital world, Darien police find themselves needing another tool to protect themselves: Body cameras.
On Sept. 26, the RTM approved Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello’s request for body cameras. Now all 48 Darien officers will be equipped with body cameras and accessories as soon as January. The equipment will cost the town $37,798 and the operating expense for digital storage will be $49,344 each year (though a state grant may relieve the town of the costs for the first year of the five-year contract that the town wants to enter).
Lovello’s request for body cameras earlier this year was denied by the Board of Selectmen during the town’s last budget cycle. However, recent events, including a widespread video of Darien police pulling over a black man on a bike, made the chief decide to revisit his request, despite how recently it had been turned down.
The video of the man on the bike is just one of several incidents that caused Lovello to push the town for body cameras. A new trend in people filming traffic stops or interfering with officers prompted the chief to take action.
“In my 35 years, that’s crazy,” he said, referring to the traffic stop incident. “We’re not that type of police department. We’re not heavy-handed, we’re not brutal. I think we have the public confidence by and large. But you have other people who want to drive this narrative of police brutality and disparate actions against the black community exist in every department in the nation.
“People are now saying they’re afraid of the police and that just breaks my heart,” he added.
Enter body cameras, not to catch the police in the wrong, but doing their job right. Lovello said he’s confident in his officers and thinks having body cameras will prove to people that his officers are doing their jobs correctly and aren’t afraid to be held up to public scrutiny.
Darien police will be employing a policy set by the state regarding the use of the camera and storage of the footage. The body cameras will be turned on by officers during certain interactions throughout the course of their shift.
Events like traffic stops and officers responding to calls will be filmed by a camera clipped to the officer’s chest. At the end of their shift, the officer will plug the camera into a dock that will categorize the footage based on the 9-1-1 calls the officers responded to and will upload it to a cloud system. Footage will be kept for 90 days, unless it may be used in a complaint or litigation, in which case it will be kept for four years.
The hope is the camera footage will rarely be needed, except to throw away the odd complaint. In Westport, where police have been using cameras since December 2014, this has been the trend. Officers there wear the cameras voluntarily and according to Lt. David Farrell, the resulting footage has resulted in dozens of dismissed complaints over the past two years.
The recordings aren’t just for defending complaints. They can also be used for recording evidence at a crime scene. But the cameras aren’t foolproof: they may not record everything an officer sees and hears during an encounter.
“A body camera is not the solution to all of our problems, because it doesn’t capture everything,” Lovello said. “It’s a camera and it’s only going to see what it sees. So things that might’ve drawn the officer’s attention outside the camera view are going to have to be taken into account in other manners, like testimony and documentation of accounts.”
The body cameras will also have to be turned on by the officer during incidents, something that can be easily forgotten in the rush of getting an urgent call. Some officers are concerned about the learning curve that will come with remembering to turn them on and the potential consequences if they forget. There’s also concerns that come with technology and the burden of carrying more equipment.
“My concern is that it’s technology and if it goes awry often, it makes us look bad,” Chris Jimenez, a Darien patrol officer, said.
“Let’s be honest: you’re dealing with human beings here. There’s going to be a learning curve, there’s going to be occasions, despite whatever training we may do, where they forget to turn it on because they’re not used to having the camera or they get caught up in the heat of the moment,” Lovello said. “We’re going to monitor that closely when we first start, to make sure it’s on.”
There will be a learning curve for the public as well. While there are restrictions on what interactions can and can’t be taped (for example, officers can’t record in health care facilities unless responding to a call), the officers don’t have to inform people they’re being recorded. However, that doesn’t mean footage of pullovers will be all over the Internet either.
“We don’t have a YouTube channel,”said Kate Gelineau, the records officer at Darien. “We get requests on a daily basis for audio/visual tape from the court, media, citizens. It’s a huge undertaking. We’ll still follow the rules of petition [for access to tapes] and Freedom of Information Act laws.”
These laws prevent any citizen from accessing anyone else’s tape, so if someone calls the police over a domestic dispute, there neighbor won’t be able to access the tape.
Despite concerns, police think that once they begin their body camera program, it will prove to be a valuable asset to the town as part of what is now expected in modern day policing.
“People have an expectation that the police are on the cutting edge of technology,” said Darien police captain Don Anderson.
“It’s like wearing a bulletproof vest,” he added. “You hope you never have to use it, but hope’s not a policy.”